Tagged: medical marijuana

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Appearing for the Defendant, $186,416.00: Medical Marijuana, State Law, and the Fourth Amendment

The Ninth Circuit just issued an opinion about the interplay between state law enforcement, federal law enforcement, the Fourth Amendment, and state law.

The LAPD obtained a warrant to search a licensed medical marijuana facility. The LAPD did not, however, tell the judge that the place to be searched was licensed. The search proceeded. Around 209 pounds of marijuana, 21 pounds of hashish, and 12 pounds of marijuana oil were seized along with $186,416.00. The facility wanted the money back, but it had been turned over federal law enforcement and forfeiture proceedings were started. If forfeited, the city stood to gain about 80 percent of the money. The Ninth Circuit The Ninth Circuit’s ruling (pdf) has the full details. This passage seems to sum up the problem and the way in which the LAPD erred.

While there may have been probable cause to search UMCC for a violation of federal law, that was not what the LAPD was doing. Nothing in the documents prepared at the time the warrant was obtained from the state court or in the procedure followed to obtain that warrant supports the proposition that the LAPD thought it was pursuing a violation of federal law. Instead, it sought a warrant from a state court judge, though, as the District Court found, it lacked probable cause for a state law violation and failed to inform the state court judge of relevant facts that supported the conclusion that UMCC was not in violation of state law. The LAPD, a city agency, never initiated the process of seeking a federal search warrant from a federal magistrate or indicated that it was pursuing a violation of federal law.

I defer to Fourth Amendment scholars as to whether this ruling makes sense. Nonetheless, it seems that the federal government’s new policy might mean that state or local government that wants the federal government involved in going after medical marijuana facilities will have to persuade the federal government that a facility is not complying with state law. That requirement seems to match what the Ninth Circuit is saying state and local law enforcement groups should do with state judges in the first place.

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Medical Marijuana: A Wild Ride on Federal and State Law

365px-Lilly96B2The Justice Department has announced a policy memo about how it will handle medical marijuana. The full memo is on The Justice Blog and in pdf here. As AP summarizes the DOJ will go after medical marijuana operations that exceed state laws or are fronts for criminal acts. At the same time, the New York Times reports that Los Angeles is thinking of cracking down on its more than its estimated 800-1,000 (yes 800-1,000) dispensaries. It seems that many are not adhering to the law that allowed them to exist. For example, many are turning a profit which apparently is not allowed; they must be non-profit. One dispensary in Oakland that adheres to the law has revenues of around $20 million. As the Times reports in other states such as New Mexico, licensed sites still encounter vague and contradictory rules as couriers can be stopped by border patrol and the medical marijuana confiscated even though the delivery is authorized. My colleague Alex Kreit does some great work on drug policy and certainly knows more about it than I. Luckily he will be guest blogging here in the near future. For now I will point folks to his op-ed Yes: It’s Time To Rethink Marijuana Prohibition. It is a thoughtful approach to what to do about marijuana (and has some fascinating figures about how many Americans use marijuana). For me, the recent moves by the federal and state governments seem to indicate that some better system is required to allow the medical use of the drug. The inconsistent standards and enforcement within each state is not great. The more difficult question is how much will medical marijuana be seen as using the federal system to let states test public policy choices? If one adds in same-sex marriage to the question, it seems that federal and state laws are entering a new phase regarding how they interact. I say that because it seems to me that the open divergence between federal and state systems with the possibility that the federal government will ignore or defer to states on national issues is new. In other words, these two issues seem analogous to prohibition and civil rights; yet they are managed differently. I could easily be wrong on this idea. I welcome thoughts and leave sorting out the implications of this possible change to the constitutional law folks.

UPDATE: Lori Ringhand’s comment helped me refocus my thoughts. As she notes (and I was trying to capture but apparently did not), there are of course ebbs and flows in this dynamic. Maybe the better way to ask my question is whether we are seeing a shift towards more deference to states. Again it may not be possible to verify this notion. In addition, it may be that the large social issues are catching attention more than the day-to-day issues. If so, the question may be further refined as are large scale social issues being left to the states a little more than they were from around the 1930s to the 1970s?

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